Vandoliers deliver country with a twist on their upcoming release, Ameri-Kinda. Due October 21st the debut album from the Texas-based sextet - Joshua Fleming (vocals/acoustic guitar), Mark Moncrieff (bass), Guyton Sanders (drums), Travis Curry (fiddle), electric guitarist Dustin Fleming (electric guitar) and Cory Graves (multi-instrumentalist) - mixes country, punk, folk, blues and more into a musical melting-pot that is super-charged, undeniably unique, and utterly refreshing. In advance of the album's release, frontman and songwriter Joshua Fleming took the time to talk about the bands' roots, the album and more.
The six of you are from different musical backgrounds, so how did you end up coming together to form Vandoliers in 2015?
Unlike New York or Nashville, Dallas-Fort Worth isn’t too big of a town. I’ve played in bands there for fifteen years, so I know pretty much everybody. I had written all of the tunes in almost one weekend and when my wife heard them she realized they were pretty folky and connected me with a friend - John Pedigo - whom she thought would know the sound I was trying to capture. I called John, sent him some songs, and he just totally understood what I was going for...and ultimately ended up producing the record. We did some demos and eventually word circulated around town that I was writing a country album. Guyton, who is a great drummer, came to the studio and laid down his parts all in one day. Mark and Cory, who were with Whiskey Folk Ramblers, came in on bass, trumpet, and piano and then Dustin, who is from a hard rock band in Denton, laid down all the chicken pickin’ and country guitars. We started playing shows and at one met Travis, who was playing fiddle with the opening band. I asked him if he wanted to try some stuff out and play on the record and he came in the studio, laid down his parts and a couple days later, without any practice, he began playing shows with us.
When I wrote the songs, I didn’t know what it was going to be; I thought I would just make a record and move forward. But once we had a record, everyone was like, “Let’s make a band.” At the first show we had a hundred people and at the second, there were two hundred; everyone was dancing and having fun and we were like, “Oh shit people like this.” (laughing) That’s when we decided this band would be our main focus. It’s crazy because I had no idea it would work out like this. Every day was a happy accident.
Sounds like it came together like it was supposed to.
Your previous band. Phuss, was a punk outfit. So, where does someone with a punk background draw from for this record, which blends punk, country, and more?
I’m a Texan so I’ve grown up with it, but at the same time I got back from touring with Phuss and, well, it was a pretty tough tour. We played to almost nobody, for no money, for twenty-nine dates, all the way up the east coast and back. I got home and I was just burnt out. I was miserable playing those shows and was starting to outgrow it. To play punk, you have to be skinny, young and pissed off - and I was the opposite. I had gotten married and was pretty happy, smiling all of the time (laughing).
I got into country because I wanted to write, but my electric equipment was broken. My wife had an acoustic guitar in the closet, so I pulled that out, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I told myself that I didn’t have to write a record or start a band - all I needed to do was write a song because I wanted to write a song. The first song I wrote was “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” which was like my battle cry. And from there, I think I wrote six more songs in one day...and then maybe ten more on Saturday and ten more on Sunday. It was crazy for me to write that much, but also special because I had never written like that before. So, I demoed out all of the ones I really liked and showed them to John who helped me make them into better demos and then an album. It’s been a whirlwind.
Being that you wrote them on an acoustic guitar and then brought in varied instruments, how much did the songs change from when you first wrote them to how they sound on the record?
Sonically, they changed a lot from being acoustic on my iPhone to the way they turned out in the studio, but the songs themselves didn’t change and that was the best thing about working with John - he wasn’t there to change my songs, he was there to lift them up, support them and see them turn into a fully functioning musical beast. By the end it wasn’t exactly a country record, but it’s cool how everything came together the way it did with six dudes who are all working for the same thing.
The album has country influences as well as this great mixing of Americana, folk, Tejano and more. Is that why you chose to call it Ameri-Kinda?
The best way to describe our band is essentially a bunch of rock and roll kids playing their idea of what country music should sound like. We pull from early 90’s honky tonk, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart, folk …and honest to God, we pull from punk too because I can’t help but make things sound punky – it’s how I was brought up. Once we figured out which songs we thought were the best, we turned them into our own thing. “Bottom Dollar Boy” has a mariachi accompaniment and fiddle; “Wildflower” has a Tex-Mex flair to it with Dustin playing guitar like Jerry Reed and a metal head coming together, and “Spring Water Supper Club” has a fuzzy guitar solo that makes it explode.
The music isn’t cry in your beer music or some artsy folk thing. It’s fun. It’s honest. And it doesn’t sound like everyone else. It’s so cool to work with these guys; we’re a team and all of our influences come in on the record, so Ameri- Kinda is the best way to describe it.
Returning to “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” you had said it was the hardest song to write because you were worried about what others were going to think and that you were doubting yourself even before anyone actually doubted you.
If you ask any songwriter there’s always this crippling self-doubt we need to get through before we write songs. It’s different for a listener because they’ll say, “Oh that song’s really catchy, cool and fun,” or the opposite; but before the song is even created the writer is in this position where you have that first line and you can either relax and let the first line be the first line, or dive into it so hard you end up second guessing yourself over-and-over again. Like I mentioned, when I started writing, I was just writing for me so it was really natural. I didn’t have some mind melting thing happen other than losing the punk band - I had to write because I needed to write. DTMWTD was kind of me talking to myself saying “F- it I want to write a country song. I like punk music, but I like country music too and it’s okay because I’m a Texan. I’m allowed to do that.”
That song was kind of the starting point for the ten songs on the record. Why did you choose to bookend the album with “Runaway Sons” and “Sinner Like Me?”
“Runaway Sons” is about my old band and is a good starting point to show where I’ve been and what it’s like to come home after being on the road. When you’re back, you’re thrown back into everyday life and sometimes you don’t really know what to do with yourself. You have to figure out a way to get back into your routine. I’m a barber; I have to wake up and go to work which is so different from being in a van, traveling to different towns, setting up and playing a show. “Runaway Sons” hits on how hard it is when you’re relatively unknown and trying to get people to listen to you and then you get home and there’s no show, no new town, and no life on the road.
We ended it with “Sinner Like Me,” which was a song Phuss never got to release because it wasn't punk. That song has a rootsy, Delta blues feel that touches base with the Texas Baptist in me which tends to be the catalyst for rebellious behavior. The entire album isn’t spiritual, but religion is part of my life whether I rebel against it or have the belief that I can do anything I set my mind to.
The record releases on October 21st; do you have any touring plans for this year or will you wait until 2017?
We’ll start in 2017. We just played a couple festivals on the West coast as well as some regional dates and we cannot wait to get back out there again. We just got picked up by Atomic Music Group who have acts like the Reverend Horton Heat and the Legendary Shack Shakers. We’re so happy to be working with them and know the plans for 2017 are going to be incredible.
Sounds like 2017 will be an exciting year!
Finally, I always love to know if there is any recent release that you cannot stop listening to and recommend people check out?
This Hispanic punk band, Piñata Protest. Picture a four-piece band where the lead guitar is an accordion. They’re from San Antonio, sing mostly in Spanish and are amazing. We played a show with them in Dallas right after we played a Red Dirt Fest and it was cool to learn that we can be a part of both [scenes]. Also, the Margo Price record, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, is incredible and so is Mariachi El Bronx - that’s a big one we listen to a lot.
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Order Ameri-Kinda here